BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
CEDAR RAPIDS – Coaches say it’s tough to lose to the same team three times, but the Holy Trinity Crusaders can’t seem to find the answer to getting past Janesville in the state volleyball tournament.
Holy Trinity has been bounced the last three years by the Wildcats, including a three-set loss Thursday night in the semifinals of the 2017 State Volleyball Tournament in Cedar Rapids, 25-17, 25-20, 25-19.
HTC looked to make a run of it in the third set when junior Emily Box found her groove. The Crusaders knotted the score at 17 and then the two teams went back and forth as Box and Janesville’s Bree Thompson exchanged kills and kept the teams tied at 18 and 19, before the Wildcats got back-to-back blocks by Julia Meister to put Janesville just two points away from a return trip the state championship.
The Crusaders got called for a double hit to make it 24-19 and Thompson sent the Wildcats to the title game with a kill to close it out.
Head Coach Melissa Freesmeier said the girls will learn from the loss.
“It’s a life lesson. These girls worked hard all year, but we won’t let it define who we are,” Freesmeier said. “These are great kids, but they gotta go on. The sun will come up tomorrow.”
The Wildcats went to Thompson often in the first set with four kills just painting the lines. Thompson worked tight angles and kept the Crusaders on the floor with some hard hits. Janesville’s Kennedy Meister had a kill and a block in back-to-back points to take a 12-8 lead in the first set. HTC gave up an 8-4 run featuring four kills by Thompson and were down 12-20.
Janesville got the yips at 21, sensing the win, and hit two past the line as the Crusaders closed the gap to six 15-21, but couldn’t get any closer as the Wildcats pulled away with a 25-17 win. Box wasn’t able to get on track throughout the set with just one kill. Taylor Boeding had three to lead HTC in the first set.
The second game went pretty much the same way as the first with Janesville rushing out to a 10-5 lead, again behind the swing of Thompson. They kept the 5-point margin all the way to 14-18 when the Wildcats got called for a rotation violation. Julie Meister had a kill and a block on the next two points to push the lead to six. Senior Maya Rashid served three straight points for the Crusaders, highlighted by a Eryn Anderson kill, to close the gap to three 19-22 and forcing a Janesville timeout.
But a double hit call and a kill by Madison Stanhope put the game one point away and then Stanhope ended the game with a kill.
It looked as though Janesville’s history of putting away matches in the third set easily would continue as they rushed to an 8-1 lead. HTC’s Mya Lawlor then served for three straight points as Box came alive with back-to-back kills and a long shot by Thompson. HTC found themselves in a 5-10 hole but then outscored the Wildcats 9-4 to pull within one 14-15 and setting up the back and forth with Box and Thompson.
Box said after facing Starmont, who didn’t contest her at the net, Janesville’s block was troublesome. Box finished with 14 kills on 42 attacks.
“They put up a huge block and I tried to get around it but they were really tough,” Box said after the game. “I had trouble with it in the first and second set and it started to come around in the third. I just tried my hardest to get through.”
She said Janesville will bring most of their team back as will the Crusaders and she’s looking forward to seeing them again next year.
“We’ll know them even better next year and we’re just going to have come back and play tougher.”
Rashid, who led HTC again in assists with 26, said, despite it being her senior year, she couldn’t be more proud with the way her team played.
“We showed who we are and what we can do here. A lot of these girls are coming back and they’ll definitely be tough next year,” she said.
She said the difference in Starmont and Janesville was part of the problem in the loss.
“Coming from Starmont ,who didn’t put up a big block, to facing a very solid block from Janesville – that’s a tough transition but I thought we handled it pretty well. Janesville is just a very good team,” Rashid said.
Freesmeier said Janesville is a very precise, well-coached volleyball team. The Wildcats repeatedly had balls on all three lines.
“That’s a very impressive ball club. We didn’t stay disciplined in guarding lines and that hurt us,” she said.
She also said the block kept Box out of her game in the early going.
“That’s what happened at New London, too. She was pushing early on, but she did eventually settle in to the match.”
Boeding said the Wildcats were everything they were billed.
“I definitely won’t take anything away from them. They are a very good team and they do everything well. To beat that team we would have had to play just about perfect volleyball and we didn’t do that tonight,” Boeding said.
Eryn Anderson finished with 4 kills on 10 attacks and Madison Mohrfeld had a kill on four attacks. Box and Mohrfeld had the only two blocks for HTC, who finished the season 38-6 with their second semifinal appearance in the past three years.